Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Dinosaurs Were Pretty Damn Sure of Themselves, Too

I recently received a fairly simple request from my mother, a woman who rarely asks for favours though she does a great many. Simple: go by the Sears catalogue store and pick up a Christmas Wish Book. No problem. I thought.

Good luck. I call the store. Not only do they no longer have any they didn't know if they would get any in, and seemed annoyed that I would ask. I have to ask for a number to order one. They give me a wrong toll free number, then, hurriedly, the "correct" one. It isn't the correct one. It is the administrative line. The person there gives me the number for ordering the catalogue. I call that number, and press the correct button for ordering a catalogue. No. Answer. Fine. I try the number again, and press the button for ordering a product. This time, after a wait, I get a live body. They tell me that they can send a copy of the Christmas Wish Book to a store, as long as I go and pick it up. (It's at this point that I start moving into Very Annoyed territory. Hello, Sears, you want me to buy things from you. "Dance, monkey, dance! It is not up to us to assist that process!" is not something that a sane retailer should have in its sales repertoire.) No, I explain, it's for my mother who has poor mobility. She's a Sears catalogue customer, can the Wish Book not be sent to her? Not without giving them a credit card number, I'm told, because The System is not set up that way. It's at this point that I become mildly angry and point out that I want them to flag this as a customer complaint, that it's ludicrous to ask for a credit card number just to get a catalogue, and remark that customers don't want to have to jump through hoops for the privilege of trying to buy something from them. The woman on the phone moves right to dismissive and says, "well, sir, we do have customers who have no problem with that and don't get upset like you do". I give it up as a bad job, knowing that it will not be flagged as a complaint and even if it was the call centre rep has made it clear that nobody gives a damn. (I don't know if they give a damn. I do know that the person that they specifically assigned to me to ensure that Sears gives a damn -- or is at least seen to give a damn -- doesn't give a damn.)

On an impulse I go onto google and start searching Sears customer service complaints and come back with rafts of 'em similar to mine.

Then it occurs to me: the outlet isn't the only Sears store in town. I call one that's on my way, get a warm and friendly voice who tells me that they have lots of the Wish Book, and tells me exactly where in the store itself that one can find it. Stunned silence on my part, followed by profuse thanks.

Three important things in this, so far as Sears is concerned.

First, I am going to get the catalogue because of my problem-solving, not because Sears made any effort or even gave a flying shit about it. They didn't. When I was in retail I would offer the the customer the option of waiting while I checked with our other stores to see if they had the product that our store did not. Why didn't the outlet store say, "hang on, let me check where you can get one" instead of making me feel like an idiot because I asked for a Christmas book as late as two months before Christmas?

Second, I only went the extra mile because it was for my mother. If it had been me looking for the catalogue I would have just said,"to hell with it" and forgotten about it... and Sears.

Third, the call centre rep is a good example of the mindset of a retail organization that does not respond well to change. The retail industry becomes more savagely competitive by the year. Classic names like Eatons have gone under, and others are struggling in the face of internet shopping, Wal-Mart and the like. The fact that a company has "customers who have no problem with that" is not the point because there are always going to be customers who calmly accept terrible service or simply drudge forward out of force of habit. The problem lies in the vastly larger number of customers who just shrug and never go back, or, worse, customers like me to make a little Brain Note not to forget this moment no matter, ever, and do things like blog about it or bring it up in conversations or e-seek people with the same experiences. Negatives spread faster than positives, and people remember them faster and longer.

The essence of retail is to make things as easy, inexpensive and satisfying for the customer as possible. Telling a customer to do it your way or the highway when the highway has other, better options is a recipe for failure.

No comments: